A distance-based approach for testing the mediation effect of the human microbiome

Jie Zhang, Zhi Wei, Jun Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Motivation Recent studies have revealed a complex interplay between environment, the human microbiome and health and disease. Mediation analysis of the human microbiome in these complex relationships could potentially provide insights into the role of the microbiome in the etiology of disease and, more importantly, lead to novel clinical interventions by modulating the microbiome. However, due to the high dimensionality, sparsity, non-normality and phylogenetic structure of microbiome data, none of the existing methods are suitable for testing such clinically important mediation effect. Results We propose a distance-based approach for testing the mediation effect of the human microbiome. In the framework, the nonlinear relationship between the human microbiome and independent/dependent variables is captured implicitly through the use of sample-wise ecological distances, and the phylogenetic tree information is conveniently incorporated by using phylogeny-based distance metrics. Multiple distance metrics are utilized to maximize the power to detect various types of mediation effect. Simulation studies demonstrate that our method has correct Type I error control, and is robust and powerful under various mediation models. Application to a real gut microbiome dataset revealed that the association between the dietary fiber intake and body mass index was mediated by the gut microbiome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1875-1883
Number of pages9
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Computational Mathematics


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